Our New Year’s wish is for America to return to political moderation.
The nation has courted extremism in recent years. The process has been ugly, but the result could be a renewed sense of purpose.
The recession — complete with high unemployment and a catastrophic decline in the value of homes and retirement plans — created widespread frustration.
Many Americans blamed government. They saw chronic deficits. They attributed mass poverty to welfare programs. The only solution was to cut taxes and watch government wither, they believed. The interdependence of Americans was overrated and it was time for a fierce capitalism devoid of New Deal cushions.
Other Americans headed the opposite direction. The recession, they noted, was a failure of capitalism. The shenanigans of a deregulated Wall Street benefited financial titans while crashing the economy. Free enterprise was destroying our environment and dooming most Americans to poverty, all to increase the wealth of the 1 percent. Government’s only failures resulted from corporate influence.
The conflicting views quickly translated into political polarization. Elected officials embraced ideology over pragmatism, adopting simplistic views that promised too much. They rejected government or rejected free enterprise, fearing the reaction of their constituents if they veered from unworkable extremes.
This polarization came to a head in the last week. Increasingly, politicians faced with the urgent task of governance had to remind their constituents that complex problems rarely have simple solutions.
Taxes are not inherently evil, some politicians had to acknowledge. Capitalism relies upon a strong government that protects property and regulates reckless profiteering. The efficiency of free enterprise shackles many to poverty that, if not addressed by government, leads to a permanent underclass.
Other politicians had to acknowledge that taxes can be too high, and that the national debt is perilous. They had to remind their constituents that governmental bureaucracy is inherently inefficient, and that safety nets require constant scrutiny. People sidelined by capitalism need sustenance and opportunity, but they also need an incentive to work.
Ours is a great nation. Its greatness comes not from extreme ideologies, but from a balance that allows for individual success and collective support. After years of watching public opinion bounce from the extremes of left and right, we hope 2013 is the year in which America rediscovers the value of moderation.
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